Thomas Wictor

Spelunking

Spelunking

I love the word “spelunking.” It’s far more imaginative than the prosaic “caving.” I was a spelunker until 2012. Instead of crawling around in caves, I did it under my house. Never once was it my idea to go under my house, except for today. There were photos that had to be taken.

The reason I had to go spelunking under the house was that Dad was always at loose ends. Here he is in his Action Coveralls.

Ed'90s

He had to have seventeen projects going at once, or else he became antsy. Many of his projects had to do with going under our three houses. I had to accompany him on more occasions than I can remember.

The worst spelunking expedition was in 1996, when we moved my Great-Aunt Marian Kimbal into my current house. This is the last photo taken of Marian.

Marian_Kimball

That’s my handiwork. Marian could barely speak because of a series of massive strokes. She was in an assisted-living facility, but we took her out after discovering that the staff was stealing her belongings. They were all obese women who Marian called “the Rumps.” There’s a special place in hell for those who prey on the elderly. I’d like to spend a few centuries being the guy who carries out their punishment.

Before we moved Marian into my current house, Tim and I had to go spelunking under it to dig trenches for the plumbing and the heater. This was because Dad had hired a claustrophobic plumber who refused to enter crawlspaces. Here’s about half the dirt we dug out from under Marian’s house.

Tom_Hunter

That’s me with my nephew Hunter James Gonzales. What I’d do is hold his hands as he ran down the dirt pile. I kept most of his weight off the ground, so it was like he was walking on the moon.

What a great song. Maybe the best bass tone ever. I have lots of fantastic memories associated with this tune. It’s got a very poignant flavor too, another reason I like it.

The claustrophobic plumber’s two children looked like the Morlocks from the 1960 version of The Time Machine.

Morlocks

As Tim and I burrowed like witless mole-men through the adobe under the house, the plumber cut square holes in the floor above so he could pass us down pipes and talk us through how to connect them. His Morlocks would stand above us, staring and whispering to each other.

One day one of them picked up a small sledge hammer.

“Drop it on their heads,” his brother whispered.

GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” Tim roared. It was so loud that my ears rang for hours. The Morlocks screeched and ran away. They never came back.

Today I decided to go spelunking under the house again. I can’t tell you why. This is the entrance to the underworld crawlspace.

portal

You unscrew those butterfly nuts and take off the grate. Then you get on your belly and go in headfirst. To the left in this next photo is one of the trenches Tim and I dug.

Trench

The ground is as hard as cement. We had to chip it out with Dad’s geological picks because there’s only eighteen inches of clearance. You can’t swing a full-sized implement under the house. Then we scooped up the chunks of cement with garden trowels and put them into these plastic tubs.

tub

Each tub is about two feet long by about a foot and a half wide by seven inches deep. That’s how we dug out twice the volume of dirt that you see in the Hunter-photo above. The trenches were so we could move around and haul in tools. Most of the crawlspace remains only eighteen inches high.

debris

While we were digging our trenches, Dad decided that we needed to earthquake retrofit the house, which had stood proud and undamaged for eighty years. Retrofitting entails anchoring the house to the concrete foundation with metal plates and bolts. This next photo shows a plate in the background.

Quake_plate

It says “20/4/2012” in chalk on the wooden beam. That’s Dad’s graffiti. It’ll remain there as long as the house exists.

You may not know this about concrete: It never stops curing. This eighty-year-old cement foundation wore out drill bits like you wouldn’t believe. Each bit could drill only about three holes. You had to lie on your stomach and push against the drill as hard as you could. In some places the only way to drill was to lie on your back, brace your feet on the foundation, and have the other brother hold you up from behind.

While we were digging and drilling, Dad kept coming into the crawlspace to inspect our work. Wherever we were, he always need to be on the other side, so in the eighteen-inch-high space, he’d slither over you, all one hundred eighty pounds of him. Dad had a nervous habit of clearing his throat constantly. I was in a tiny, dark, hot space, with a man lying on top of me and going, “Errumph. Errumph. Errumph” in my ear.

In this photo you can see the heater on the left.

Underwordl.1

We had to dig out the equivalent of a foxhole to fit that mother in. To the right are the wavy ventilation holes the carpenter cut. He was a heavy-metal guitarist with carpal-tunnel syndrome, so all the holes he cut with his circular saw are shaped like amoebas.

Dad died before we could undertake what would’ve been the most hellish spelunking mission of all time. He wanted to put the house on four concrete pedestals for some reason. He’d made three of them. Each weighs about ninety pounds.

implements

I absolutely dreaded that operation. Manhandling those things under the house would’ve been impossible. When Dad told me of his plan, I feebly protested, and he got furious.

“Fine!” he snapped. “I’ll do it by myself!”

In retrospect he’d known of his cancer for four years at that point. This latest madcap scheme was another desperate distraction.

Today I went under the house as a commemoration of my doomed father and all the slave labor Tim and I did for him without complaint.

damned

I can’t believe anything about my life. Someone should write a book about it.


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